Couples Communication: What Are We Teaching Our Children?

Modeling Communication:  Without a doubt, the ticket to Coupledom disaster is best acquired by non-communication. Couples who choose therapy are talking just enough to reach a consensus to get help. Couples who can’t talk communicate with attorneys. What boggles this therapeutic mind is where did these folks learn to “not communicate”?  As a culture, we chat. We text. We email. We Skype. Couples thrash things out on Oprah, Dr. Phil and Parenthood.  Cable shows are replete with intimate communications of all kinds. Yet, even young couples, who are more likely to share feelings than their forefathers and mothers, describe difficulty setting aside time to “talk”.  Despite the plethora of articles and books on “relationship”, making the time to touch base  is on the back burner of many family households, if on the burner at all. Why?

You’ve Got To Be Taught:  When I inquire of couples as to how their parents communicated, I am met with blank stares, then some gathering of buried data, perhaps something like, they never fought, they fought all the time, they agreed on everything, mom/dad called the shots, they worked all the time and rarely had a moment to sit and talk. From these same couples, a litany of their communication disasters unfolds: in cars with kids in the back seat; late at night when children are sleeping, or are preoccupied by video games, and supposedly oblivious to angry words hurled in neighboring bedrooms or kitchens below. Or of the absence of talk, too busy, never time, while ever widening gaps open up to swallow the love and the friendship.  Why? Where is the model kids need of respectful, interested and collaborative communication between their parents?

The Method of Touching Base: A pervasive theme in young Coupledoms today is “too busy” and “no time” for the Coupledom. Formerly “best friends” now are strangers, running the business of family, chasing after challenging careers, trying to earn a buck, but postponing the process of coupling. This makes no real sense. “Why did we sign on if all we would end up doing is losing all we loved and enjoyed about “us” for the sake of capturing the flag of family and financial achievement?”

Prevention: Sara Parker-Pope’s New York Times June 28th article Seeking To Pre-empt Marital Strife describes the new online “prevention” model of couples work, where sites offer opportunities for couples to get help before irreparable damage occurs.  Prevention is a primary goal of this blog as well. And learning to communicate regularly with one’s partner, is the fundamental tool to a healthy relationship and the key to interpersonal health as a model and as a legacy for one’s children.

Be Curious And Interested: Imagine taking 10 minutes each day, morning or evening, to sit down with your partner, across a table, face to face, and ask “how was your day?” Make eye contact while asking for feedback or help with a decision or a perception. “What would you like to do this weekend?  How did your project at work go? Can you help me out with a task. Did you hear the news that ….. “. Notice that your partner looks tired or suntan or got a haircut; brainstorm a child or work related problem; share an anecdote about the kids, a worker buddy, or NPR. Begin the conversation, and if you can’t complete it, agree to catch up later. In this way, you are conveying, I know that you exist, and I am interested in you, your thoughts, your feelings, and your  opinions. Ten minutes, where the kids see you from a far or near, see that you respect each other, and listen to each other. Hear each other. Wild!? Yes! Impossible? No! Are the kids paying attention? Who knows. Kids learn by osmosis. Oh, you say he/she travels, she/he is always cleaning, he watches sports, she is on the phone or at the computer. “We are driving in separate cars to drop off different kids in disparate places.”  STOP! Ten minutes………pick a spot, set a time, and use technology when being present means reaching beyond miles to hear a voice or see a face.

Excuseria: I can hear and have heard all the reasons why this simplistic approach to connecting can’t work. But it is like any exercise where the benefits accrue over time, with repetition. The first round of Pilates or yoga or Zumba or free weights is the hardest. But daily follow-up makes it tolerable and the suffering comes only when you don’t do it. The muscles tighten up, the heart shuts down, the stranger phenomenon sets in. “Who are you again?” Oh, my partner.

Lucky Are The Children: Who See Their Parents Make Eye Contact;  Listen To Their Partners Opinions ; Disagree But Work Toward A Third Option;  Lucky Are They Whose Parents Stop the Running To Begin The Teaching of Intimacy, Collaboration, Communication and Friendship in The Coupledom.

Practice Can Begin In Treatment: If your Coupledom is too out of shape to “touch base”, seek out an expert. The focus of much couples work is to learn the art of communication. Developing those skills and passing them on to one’s children is of immeasurable value. Don’t wait. The kids are getting older every day. Ten minutes of your day can mean decades of happy Coupledom for them.

©Jill Edelman, M.S.W., L.C.S.W. 2010

4 Responses to “Couples Communication: What Are We Teaching Our Children?”

  1. pamela thibodeau

    Jill, I love this post. I work with children of divorcing parents, and how tragic every divorce seems to me for those children — most especially the divorces that could have been prevented if the couple availed themselves of the great advice and strategies you outline here and everywhere in your work. Keep up the great work!

    • jilledelmanlcsw

      I agree. I trained as a divorce mediator and am certified in that work. My goal is to represent the interests of the children in a collaborative divorce. Each attorney in my training was doing it for the same reason, the children. How to spare the children. And most of these concerned attorneys were women. I count you as one of them.


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